Joined: 01 Mar 2004
Location: Louisville, KY
|Posted: Mon Aug 02, 2004 1:28 pm Post subject: Overview of all Womens Olympic Teams
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Olympic team preview in women’s freestyle wrestling
Gary Abbott/USA Wrestling
Just like with the men, there is no team title in the Olympics for women wrestlers. However, with a sport that is making its Olympic debut, there will be great attention to the team effort. There is not a ton of depth in international women’s wrestling yet, so the most powerful nations in the sport all qualified a full four-woman roster for the Games.
There will be many “mini-teams” in the women’s meet, four invidivuals who are seeking to be among the first Olympic medalists in history. The medal count will be very important and people will notice, unless no nations are able to get very many medals.
As in the past, the team to measure against in women’s wrestling is World champion Japan. Going back to 1987, when the first recognized World Championships were held, Japan won 11 of 16 team titles. Other nations that have won team titles include Russia (twice), the United States, China and France. This is not a big list.
If you look at last year’s World Championships, at the four Olympic weights, Japan got three medals, all gold. The United States got four medals, all silver. China got two bronzes, Ukraine won a gold, Canada and Russia each claimed a bronze. That’s it. A total of 12 medals split between five nations. Will there be a variety of medalists, or will only a few nations split the treasure?
Japan will be talented and motivated. There will be a ton of media attention and pressure for the team to excel, especially with their flagbearer for Opening Ceremonies being Kyoko Hamaguchi, the megastar at 72 kg. The Japanese media have been building this team up ever since the sport was added to the Olympics, with all expectations pointed towards the Athens Games. The focus, like it or not, is that Japan wants to sweep the gold medals. Call it arrogance or confidence, it does not matter. The fact is that this team has that kind of capability.
And why not? All four team members were World Champions last year. Three of them have won multiple World titles. All the years of domination will not matter if Japan does not have a superior performance at the first Olympic Games in women’s wrestling. These women will be expected to deliver the gold.
Kyoko Hamaguchi at 72 kg has five World titles. She is not perfect, having lost within the year to American Toccara Montgomery and she went two straight years without a gold medal during her run. Saori Yoshida at 55 kg and Kaori Icho at 63 kg are two-time World champions, both winning in 2002 and 2003. At 48 kg is Chiharu Icho, the 51 kg World champion who cut the weight and made the Japanese team to join her sister in Athens.
Can the dream happen for Japan? Odds are against it. There are other teams and other athletes who are training for the same goals and have the ability to beat the Japanese wrestlers. But all eyes will be on Japan, until somebody steps up and takes their thunder away.
Tentative Japanese lineup
48 kg - Chiharu Icho
55 kg – Saori Yoshida
63 kg – Kaori Icho
72 kg – Kyoko Hamaguchi
Turning silver into gold. That is the mission of the U.S. Olympic coaches for women’s wrestling and the four athletes on the team. Last year, on the home mats in New York, Team USA went two days without a loss. But on the final day, Japan caught up, and beat the Americans in three head-to-head gold medal matches in the Olympic divisions. In the fourth weight, an American lost to a multiple World Champion from Ukraine.
Making the finals will no longer be good enough for the three who return from that 2003 World Team: Patricia Miranda at 48 kg, Sara McMann at 63 kg and Toccara Montgomery at 72 kg. Twice in their careers, Mirand and Montgomery have lost World gold-medal matches, and McMann lost in overtime in her only World finals bout. These athletes know they are good enough to win it all. They have paid their dues and they have earned the right to expect victory. They just need the edge, they need to be close the door with everything on the line.
Making that finals match will be more difficult than ever. With just 12 athletes and only four pools per weight class, it is a good bet that the U.S. wrestlers may have to face somebody from Japan right away. The two best wrestlers may wrestle in the first round. There will be some other very tough draw against wrestlers from the other powerful nations. Team USA needs a great first day, like it had in New York in 2003, not like the rough first day it had in Greece at the 2002 World tournament.
The newcomer is Tela O’Donnell at 55 kg, who pinned two-time World silver medalist Tina George in the U.S. Olympic Trials finals. O’Donnell is a bit unorthodox and is talented, but lacks the big-time experience. If she gets some good early matches, she has the capability to achieve great things.
Tentative United States lineup
48 kg - Patricia Miranda
55 kg –Tela O’Donnell
63 kg – Sara McMann
72 kg – Toccara Montgomery
Nobody better overlook China at the Olympic Games. This team won the World Team title back in 2001. All four athletes are medal hopefuls. With the next Olympics in their home turf in Beijing in 2008, the Chinese sports machine has been kicking into full gear. There are four medals to be won, and China is aiming for a medal at every weight.
Two Chinese athletes won medals last year, World bronze medalist Li Hui at 48 kg and Wang Xu at 72 kg. Wang was a World silver medalist in 2002. The expected entry at 63 kg, Lili Meng, was a World champion in 2001. One of the possible entries at 55 kg, Yanzhi Gao, won World bronze medals in 1999 and 2000. China has depth in its programs, so it is possible that some other athletes might emerge to make the team, and will be just as good as those who were there in the past.
The United States and China had a tremendous battle at the 2003 World Cup event in Japan, with the U.S. winning a close battle. You have to put China right up there among the best nations in the field.
Tentative Chinese lineup
48 kg - Li Hui
55 kg – Sun Dongmei or Yanzhi Gao
63 kg – Meng or Xu Haiyan
72 kg – Wang Xu
This is a team with two World Team titles in its trophy case, and a tremendous tradition of championship wrestling in the nation. Russia may not have fully embraced its women’s program like it has with its star-studded men’s teams, but along the way, this team has developed some very talented and tough athletes.
Perhaps the best current team member is 2003 World bronze medalist Natalia Golts at 55 kg, a veteran who is capable of beating anybody in the world. Russia is reportedly considering Olga Smirnova at 55 kg as well.
Russia has a past World champion in the mix at 63 kg, Alena Kartacheva, who won her World title at 59 kg in 2002. One of the Russian options at 48 kg is Inga Karamchakova, who has won a number of World silver and bronze medals during her career.
The biggest question comes at 72 kg, where Gouzel Manyurova or Svetlana Martynenko have been competitive, but have yet to establish dominance. Just like the Russian men, there is no way to be sure which athletes will get the nod for the team in Athens, but you have to expect the team to be very good and well prepared.
Tentative Russian lineup
48 kg - Inga Karamchakova, Larisa Oorzhak or Lilia Kaskarakova
55 kg – Natalia Golts, Olga Smirnova or Natalya Ivashko
63 kg – Alena Kartacheva or Lubov Volosova
72 kg – Gouzel Manyurova or Svetlana Martynenko
This team starts off with a three-time World champion at 48 kg in Irini Merlini, then throws a tough competitor at you in all the other weight divisions. With only four weight classes, a team like Ukraine could have a great performance, or might not have a strong impact. It may just boil down to draw, as well as some individual performances.
Lyudmilla Golovchenko was fourth at 63 kg at the 2003 World Championships, the other strong performance for Ukraine in New York City. Two Ukrainian women were able to qualify through the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments, Tatiana Lazareva at 55 kg and Svetlana Sayenko at 72 kg. Lazareva is a past World bronze medalist. Sayenko has had some good international performances. How Ukraine finishes up will not be based upon their superstar Merlini. It will depend upon the other three athletes.
Tentative Ukrainian lineup
48 kg - Irini Merlini
55 kg – Tatiana Lazareva
63 kg – Lyudmila Golovchenko
72 kg – Svetlana Sayenko
This is a team with great possibilities. Coming into the meet, only one Canadian was a World medalist last year, young Viola Yanik at 63 kg. Yanik has done well in some key international events, but has had difficulty in the Pan American level with American Sara McMann. She will be considered a medal threat again.
Canada’s wrestling superstar (both men and women) has been Christine Nordhagen, who boasts six World gold medals. Nordhagen was out of the game for awhile, but returned to action to beat ohenowa Akuffo out for the team. She has suffered some losses in her return, and some wonder if her glory days are passed. However, this is a great champion and with Olympic medals at stake, we may see some of that Nordhagen magic again.
Lyndsey Belisle has been a solid world competitor, and moved down to 48 kg to make the Canadian team. Her win over Patricia Miranda at the Titan Games will give her confidence. Tonya Verbeek is a veteran at 55 kg, and also had a tough field in the Canadian Trials. This is a team that could do very well in Athens, but there is no certainty for any of them.
Tentative Canadian lineup
48 kg - Lyndsay Belisle
55 kg – Tonya Verbeek
63 kg – Viola Yanik
72 kg – Christine Nordhagen
You can expect that the host nation will have a better performance than normal when the Olympic Games come to town. The crowd is in their favor, the close officiating calls often go their way. It also helps when you automatically qualify an entire team. And in the case of Greece’s women’s wrestling team, there are some pretty good athletes as well.
The top place finisher for Greece at the 2004 World Championships was Fani Psatha, who was fourth at 48 kg. At 55 kg, Sofia Poumbouridou, a 2002 World champion at 51 kg, looks to be the team’s choice. These two athletes are true medal contenders.
Greece will have a challenge at the other two weights, as their potential entries have not yet made any big news on the international scene. But with a full team of four, and the home field advantage, Greece will be a player in the women’s division this year.
Tentative Greek lineup
48 kg - Fani Psatha or Myrsini Koloni
55 kg –Sofia Poumpouridou or Konstantina Tsimpanakou
63 kg – Stavroula Zigouri or Agoro Papavasileiou
72 kg – Aikaterinii Siavou
With three athletes in the tournament, Germany will be well represented at the Olympic Games. The top gold-medal threat is 2002 World champion Brigitte Wagner at 48 kg. Wagnerdid not compete at the 2003 World Championships, but qualified with a gold-medal performance at the first Olympic Qualification event. She is a past Junior World Champion, and will be confident in her ab ilities.
Both of the other German wrestlers are experienced. Anita Schaetzle placed fifth at the 2003 World Championships for Germany, and has been competitive for a number of years. Germany also could choose Nina Englich for this spot. At 63 kg, Stephanie Gross has placed fourth in the world and been a European finalist. These two athletes are capable of medal performances.
Tentative German lineup
48 kg - Brigitte Wagner
55 kg – not qualified
63 kg – Stephanie Gross
72 kg – Anita Schaetzle or Nina Englich
This is a traditional women’s wrestling power, which has been fighting for respect in recent seasons. France put three athletes into the field in Athens, and could make some news if some of their veteran stars pull it together under the big spotlight.
Qualifying for the Olympics at the 2003 World Championships in New York was Angelique Berthenet at 48 kg, who captured sixth. (She qualified because a Greek athlete was in the top five at the weight class). There are two possible French choices who were past World champions, but have not been dominant in recent seasons. Anna Gomis won four World titles and Lise Golliot-LeGrand won two world titles, but none have been in recent seasons. Both won golds in the second Olympic Qualifying event. If these veterans are chosen by France to compete, they will need to recapture some of the strong wrestling that made them top stars in the late 1990s.
Tentative French lineup
48 kg - Angelique Berthenet or Laurianne Marie
55 kg – Anna Gomis or Vanessa Boubryemm
63 kg – Lise Golliot-Legrand
72 kg – not qualified
Other teams to watch
Of the teams with two entries, Sweden has the best tradition in women’s wrestling. The Swedes were second as a team at the 2002 World Championships, but slipped a bit last season. At 63 kg, Sara Eriksson of Sweden, who has won two World titles (1996, 1995) and placed second in the 2002 World meet was. 2002 World bronze medalist Ida Theres Karlssonis a threat at 55 kg and was also a European Champion this season.
The other teams with two entries are Italy , Mongolia and Tajikistan. Italy has a strong individual in Diletta Giampiccolo at 55 kg, a former World medalist at higher weights. Tajikistan could be tough, as their athletes have come from the Russian system, including respected Lidia Karamchakovaat 48 kg.
WOMEN OLYMPIC QUALIFIERS (by nation)
Canada (4): 48 kg, 55 kg, 63 kg, 72 kg
China (4): 48 kg, 55 kg, 63 kg, 72 kg
*Greece (4): 48 kg, 55 kg, 63 kg, 72 kg
Japan (4): 48 kg, 55 kg, 63 kg, 72 kg
Russia (4): 48 kg, 55 kg, 63 kg, 72 kg
Ukraine (4): 48 kg, 55 kg, 63 kg, 72 kg
United States (4): 48 kg, 55 kg, 63 kg, 72 kg
France (3): 48 kg, 55 kg, 63 kg
Germany (3): 48 kg, 63 kg, 72 kg
Italy (2): 55 kg, 72 kg
Mongolia (2): 48 kg, 72 kg
Sweden(2): 55 kg, 63 kg
Tajikistan (2): 48 kg, 63 kg
Austria (1): 72 kg
Belarus (1): 63 kg
Bulgaria (1): 72 kg
Korea (1): 55 kg
Puerto Rico (1): 55 kg
Venezuela (1): 48 kg
Host Greece automatically qualifies an athlete at each weight class